Global: Outlawing Marijuana Censors Science, Researchers Say
By Steve Elliott
The outlawing of natural substances such as cannabis, psilocybin mushrooms and other psychoactives amounts to scandalous censorship of science and hampers research into potentially important medicinal uses, leading scientists said on Wednesday.
"Drug laws" and international treaties have set back key research in areas such as consciousness by decades, the scientists argued in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, reports
"The decision to outlaw these drugs was based on their perceived dangers, but in many cases the harms have been overstated," pointed out David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London who is a former British government drugs advisor.
Nutt said the laws amounted "to the worse case of scientific censorship since the Catholic Church banned the works of Copernicus and Galileo," in a statement accompanying the paper.
"The laws have never been updated despite scientific advances and growing evidence that many of these drugs are relatively safe," Nutt said. "And there appears to be no way for the international community to make such changes."
"This hindering of research and therapy is motivated by politics, not science," Nutt said, reports The Guardian. "It's one of the most scandalous examples of scientific censorship in modern times."
"The ban on embryonic cell stem research by the Bush Administration is the only possible contender, but that only affected the USA, not the whole world," Nutt said.
Nutt, along with another former U.K. government drugs advisor, Leslie King, and coauthor David Nichols of the University of North Carolina, called for the use of psychoactive drugs in research to be exempted from severe restrictions.
"If we adopted a more rational approach to drug regulation, it would empower researchers to make advances in the study of consciousness and brain mechanisms of psychosis, and could lead to major treatment innovations in areas such as depression and PTSD," Nutt said.
Nutt got sacked as the U.K.'s top government advisor on drugs in 2009 after publicy criticizing the government for ignoring scientific evidence on cannabis and MDMA (ecstasy). He has conducted small trials of psilocybin, the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms, on human subjects.
Nutt's study, using volunteers, indicated that psilocybin has the potential to alleviate severe forms of depression in people who hadn't responded to other treatments.
But in April, Nutt said his plans to conduct the first full clinical trial to explore using psilocybin as a treatment had stopped because of strict rules on the use of illegal drugs in scientific research.
The scientists' call for reform has been endorsed by the British Neuroscience Association and the British Association for Psychopharmacology.
(Graphic: Knowledge Planet)